Fuzzy Regulations

Experimental and Part 91 type-certificated aircraft and engines.


Many would say that the inspector was being overly cautious. Of course it is certainly his prerogative to refuse to sign off on the condition inspection. But, was it reasonable, based on the overhaul statement he had before him? I think not. A simple phone call to the overhaul facility might have allayed his fears regarding AD note compliance on this engine. A condition inspection on an experimental need not address AD note compliance and simply looks to its condition for safe flight.

Reliance on others work is a mainstay of the aviation maintenance business. In the case of an overhauled engine there may be many internal components that an inspector (IA or otherwise) simply cannot visually inspect. As to such components, an IA or other inspector’s reliance on a licensed A&P technician’s assurances that the work was properly performed would presumably be reasonable, in the absence of any indication that some disassembly for verification was necessary. Since there was no verification of AD note compliance on the particular engine the inspector had to rely on the statements of the overhaul technician. He did not appear to want to do that in this case for some reason.

In the Part 91 field we can look for some guidance to cases decided on a similar issue. There have been NTSB cases that have looked at this issue and they go both ways. In one case the Board initially did not find that an IA inspector was personally liable under Part 43 for the errors of a mechanic who worked for him. Where the shop was not a certified repair station for the overhaul of engines, it was necessary for the IA to return an engine to service after overhaul via his IA authority. Perhaps the Board assumed that the signoff by the IA was simply an administrative function of the repair facility and thus should not place the burden of the internal errors of the mechanic on the inspector. The Board opined later in the proceeding that an inspector’s reliance on his employees’ work does not necessarily make him personally responsible under Part 43 for the mechanics’ errors. On subsequent review by the Board however they changed their mind and suggested that the inspector should have supervised his employee more closely with regard to the engine overhaul and its assembly.

There is clear authority for holding an IA responsible under sections 43.13 and 43.15, for returning an aircraft to service that was not airworthy after an annual inspection, where the maintenance work preceding the inspection was performed by others. Needless to say, the IA is responsible to personally inspect the aircraft and of course the retraction of landing gear during the inspection. He cannot leave this to others and rely on their statements regarding the same without the threat of sanction.

However, many would say that the same rules do not apply to experimental aircraft.

The second inspection
With his ferry permit in hand the owner flew to another location and another inspector. After reviewing the work order of the previous inspection and available logs, the second inspector found little trouble in certifying the aircraft for safe flight and included the engine as follows…

“… I certify that this aircraft has been inspected on (date) in accordance with the scope and detail of Appendix D of Part 43 and found to be in a condition for safe flight….”

“… Logbooks checked and found to be satisfactory for experimental non-certified engine …”

Does this solve the problem? Send your comments to aerolaw@att.net.

Stephen P. Prentice is an attorney whose practice involves FAA-NTSB issues. He has an Airframe and Powerplant certificate, is an ATP rated pilot, and is a USAF veteran. E-mail: aerolaw@att.net

We Recommend